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Ask Doctor Cory.

Dear Dr. Cory:

What is the best way to clean up mercury from a broken thermometer?

Ellen Hermann Chicago, Illinois

Dear Ellen:

High concentrations of elemental mercury vapor or long-term exposure to mercury vapor can have severe effects on the respiratory and central nervous systems. However, exposure to the amount of mercury in a small fever thermometer is usually not enough to cause clinical symptoms if properly disposed of.

When a small glass mercury thermometer breaks on a hard surface, the easiest way to pick up the beads is to roll them onto a stiff paper, card, or possibly an eyedropper, being careful to avoid direct contact with your skin or clothing. The beads should be placed into an airtight plastic bag or container with a tightly sealed lid. Any clothing that comes in contact with the mercury should also be placed in an airtight bag. Dispose of the contaminated items at your household hazardous waste facility. Should the mercury land on a soft item, such as a rug, gather the item with the mercury in the middle and seal it in a plastic bag for disposal. If this is not possible, try an eyedropper or tape to pick up the beads to be placed in a plastic bag.

Never use a broom, paintbrush, or any type of a vacuum to pick up mercury. This will only cause the beads of mercury to scatter or spread into the air, causing a greater health risk. It will also contaminate the vacuum cleaner. Air vents in the room where the spill occurs should be kept closed until the mercury is removed. The room should be cool and well ventilated for 24 hours to allow for the release of mercury vapors into the outside air.

Immediately report any such spills to your state environmental management department to be sure that all the proper steps have been taken. To avoid this type of accident, switch to a digital thermometer.

Dear Readers:

Whether your travels this summer take you and your family to the mountains, to the ocean, or just to your local park, always be prepared with a well-stocked first-aid kit. If your child is known to have severe allergic reactions to insect stings, certain foods, medications, or exercise, then you should put the EpiPen[R] Jr. at the top of your list of first-aid items.

Epinephrine, the main ingredient in the EpiPen[R] Jr., constricts blood vessels, relaxes the smooth muscles in the lungs to improve breathing, and increases the heartbeat. It reverses the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis. Giving epinephrine immediately for anaphylaxis can mean the difference between life and death.

If your doctor believes that your child is at risk for anaphylaxis, he will prescribe an epinephrine autoinjector, such as an EpiPen[R] Jr., for you (or your child if he is old enough) to carry at all times. Anyone carrying an Epi-Pen[R] should receive a demonstration about proper use and be allowed to practice with a dummy pen to learn how to use it confidently and correctly.


Cory SerVaas, M.D.

First-Aid Kit

A list of essentials for every first-aid kit includes:

* epinephrine auto-injector kit, such as the Epi-Pen[R] Jr. or Epi-Pen[R] for older children and adults, available by prescription for those with severe allergic reactions to insect stings, foods, medications, or exercise

* a compact first-aid manual (such as the American Red Cross First Aid and Personal Safety Handbook)

* acetaminophen

* adhesive bandages and tape

* antibiotic cream

* antihistamine medication (such as Benadryl)

* antiseptic solution

* blanket

* cell phone/change for phone calls

* cotton balls

* diarrhea medicine (Avoid any that contain aspirin. Use of aspirin in children has been associated with Reye's syndrome)

* digital thermometer

* dosing spoon (or infant dropper for infants)

* elastic bandages

* eye wash

* hydrocortisone cream

* ice pack (ready to use)

* insect repellent

* pencil and notebook

* safety pins

* scissors

* small flashlight

* sterile gauze rolls and pads

* sunscreen

* syrup of ipecac and activated charcoal (Use only under the advice of a doctor or poison control center)

* tweezers

Do you have a question about your child's health? Send it to: "Ask Doctor Cory" Humpty Dumpty's Magazine P.O. Box 567 Indianapolis, IN 46206 Or e-mail your questions to:

This column is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:SerVaas, Cory
Publication:Humpty Dumpty's Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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